Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The American Way

June 04, 2013


Shawn Kirchner
The Los Angeles Master Chorale wrapped up its 49th season on Sunday with a program of American works. And while eyes were increasingly focused on the 50th anniversary season that lies just a few months ahead, this closing performance captured the Chorale at the height of their powers. It was a show that took a broad swipe at an immensely large body of choral music and it captured much spirit and artistry of the group where they are right now in time under the musical direction of Grant Gershon. All of the works on the program outside of four traditional spirituals that closed the evening were from the 20th Century. And while that designation sends some music fans running, there was little discordant modernism to be found here. The evening opened with Samuel Barber’s Sure on This Shining Night which set the tone with majesty and beautiful sound. Barber’s choral setting of his own Adagio for Strings, Agnues Dei also surfaced on the program. There was an early work from Elliott Carter and a puckish work from the iconoclastic Charles Ives, General William Booth Enters Into Heaven. Accompanied only by piano, The chorale showed off its way with difficult scores here to exciting effect.

But there was plenty of contemporary music on the bill as well. And while some of it was not the most intellectually challenging material, it did highlight the chorale’s interest in new commissions and advocating living artists. There were Three Songs of Faith from Eric Whitacre that came off as somewhat maudlin. Perhaps more notable though was the world premiere Plath Songs, a new cycle from the LAMC’s own composer-in-residence and member, Shawn Kirchner. Kirchner is well known for his arrangements that have been performed by the chorale, but in his recently adopted role of composer-in-residence he is flexing his artistic muscles in new ways. These settings of Sylvia Plath’s poems benefit from superb texts. Kirchenr’s music can actively avoid the darker streaks in these six poems that were heard on Sunday. However, the works are well orchestrated for the chorus and Kirchner has an excellent feel for writing for a vocal ensemble of this size. It’s a collaboration worth continued watching.

The evening closed with four more off-the-beaten-path spirituals including “Hold On!”, “Keep Your Lamps!”, and “The Battle of Jericho.” This material can be touch and go with some ensembles although it is a huge part of the American choral tradition. These numbers were well done and enthusiastically received by the audience to a greater extent than anything else all evening. This eclectic mix of new and older music and programming that hits a wide variety of buttons is part of what makes the LAMC so great and this closing season certainly promises a lot to celebrate in the 50th anniversary year starting this fall.


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